Your Breath Or Your Life: 5 Reasons Why Your Breath Is Vital.
“To become a welcome vessel for the breath is to live life without trying to control, grasp, or push away. And how easy is this? The process of breathing is the most accurate metaphor we have for the way that we personally approach life, how we live our lives, and how we react to the inevitable changes that life brings us.” ~ Donna Farhi, The Breathing Book
In Yoga, we talk about coming back to the breath as a form of anchoring, grounding. And truthfully, we all need this desperately!
Too much of our time is spent flying around on the periphery of our selves, looking to the outside for validation and acceptance. We forget about our core needs, our inner self.
Breath is life, and life is breath. And yet it is more than that, so much more. Of course, the breath oxygenates our blood, giving life to our very cells. But this is far from the end of the story.
Biologically, when we breathe fully and without restriction, our diaphragm expands in a way which massages all of the organs in the body, squeezing and releasing them like sponges.
This bathes our organs in new blood, oxygen and essential fluids, and stimulates the entire body to work more efficiently.
Beyond biology, however, our breath can be thought of as the core energy system which supports everything we do in life.
In Yoga, we call this prana, which in English we often translate simply as breath — and so pranayama becomes our controlled breathing practice. But the Sanskrit implies a much greater force — prana is our life force.
It is the energy in everything we are, do, see, feel. Prana suffuses our physical body, but also extends beyond, to our mental, emotional and spiritual bodies.
When we are lacking in prana or it is blocked, we feel lethargic, bored, dull, inert, uninspired, valueless, without purpose.
Conversely, when prana is abundant and flows without restriction, we are full of health and vitality, joy and inspired direction. We can even use this energy system by expanding beyond ourselves and helping to heal others.
But first we must learn how to bring full awareness to the breath. You think that simply because we come with a ready-made automated system, it should work effectively for us, but it doesn’t!
Our autonomous breathing is directed by our unconscious, mammalian brain — that part of us which is instinctive and yet hasn’t yet caught up with our conscious evolution as humans in a chronically stressed, modern world.
Additionally, we have forgotten over the years, what it is like to breathe as a small child, without reservation, without restriction.
Our adult selves unconsciously place blocks — mental, emotional and ultimately physical — in the path of free-flowing, expansive breathing. This creates stagnation, chronic illness, disease and depression.
We have become stuck in our habitually terrible breathing patterns — of shallow breathing, breathing high up into the chest, breathing fast or irregularly. And we don’t give it a thought.
Moreover, we don’t connect the dots between this vital life source and our own holistic health.
This is the importance of breath! Of one seemingly small, autonomous act…
So, how can we harness this vital energy? Primarily, through changing our habits!
Here are five ways how you can benefit exponentially from a daily breath-awareness and conscious breathing practice:
1. Stress Relief
When we breathe deep down into our belly, allowing it to be soft and full and open, we increase oxygenation of the body by up to 600%, and our brainwaves are transformed from beta (heightened alertness and critical thinking) to alpha (deep relaxation and gateway to the subconscious).
This is why it is such a great introductory breath for beginners in pranayama — it allows us to move into that required state of relaxation instantly, as well as noticing where any restrictions may be occurring.
Full yogic breathing in this way will help all your muscles relax, soften your belly, and automatically cut through any fight-or-flight response.
In fact, it moves beyond that, switching on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxing, calming down and allowing the body’s natural processes — such as digestion — to take place.
That’s just from taking a few unscheduled, mindful breaths. Imagine what could be possible if you exercised this muscle just like you exercise your body or your brain. Imagine if you exercised all three together on a daily basis!
Imagine learning a variety of techniques to use in different situations to create different outcomes. Connecting to the breath isn’t just about calming us down.
2. Profound Healing
The breath is a conduit for our well-being.
It forms the basis of our circulatory system, for a start — oxygenating our blood to feed and energize all of our cells, of course, but also activating the lymph system which moves toxins out of the body.
Most significantly though, our breath forms part of our stress response.
The fascinating thing to know here is that, although breathing usually happens autonomously — and we can therefore easily become embroiled in a stress or pain response without even realizing at first — we also have the ability to take control of the breath, and with that comes the magical power of lowering cortisol (the stress hormone) and even reducing sensitivity to pain!
Above all, breath awareness and control helps us to recognize and clear energy blocks in our system, whether they are physical (illness/disease), mental/emotional (depression, relationship troubles etc), intuitive (lack of self-confidence and trust) or spiritual (disconnection from others and the bigger picture in life).
Shifting these blocks allows us to access our full potential in body, mind and consciousness.
3. Greater Connection To Others
It is an extraordinary beauty of life that when we connect deeply with ourselves, we simultaneously access a more profound understanding of — and empathy with — others.
The breath can take us to this place, if only for brief moments, easily and quickly.
Suddenly you see your squabbling kids in a warm, rose-tinted light and your heart melts; you can glimpse a world of softness beyond the hard exterior of that grumpy neighbor; and instead of getting angry or switching off, you cry when you read about some of the atrocities happening in a far-off country.
Even if these new connected feelings are short-lived, they contribute to our sense of place and belonging, as well as our ultimate awakening.
4. New Vision
When we begin to stir up and release new energies, it is as if we emerge from a dense, dark forest into a new place of light and spaciousness. Things that seemed previously utterly impossible are presented to us as great opportunities.
We begin to see beyond our introspective, limiting beliefs and narrow safety of the ego, and realize with surprise and joy that the world is infinite.
Again, this may happen in short bursts and it may take time — a regular daily habit of connecting to the breath — to trust in this new vision, and the possibilities opening out in front of us.
5. Higher Consciousness
As much as the breath brings life to the cells of the body, it also helps to regenerate and evolve the mind and emotions. This goes far beyond oxygenation of the brain.
Bringing our consciousness into the observation, direction and mindful manipulation of our pranic system affords us a freedom that our animal counterparts do not have access to.
Ultimately, becoming an expert in the observation and conscious use of one’s breath gives access to the Pranic field, bringing balance to body and mind and allowing union with the transcendental reality of our universe.
In short, conscious and deliberate use of your breath is like accessing a superpower you never realized you had! I’d say that was definitely worth devoting a few minutes daily practice to, wouldn’t you?
“Prana is the dynamic principle within everything. Everyone is born with a certain quantum of prana, but the quantity and quality change continuously, as one goes through life. Positive thoughts, higher feelings and yogic practices generate higher levels of prana…” ~ Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
Zoë Foster is a Life Energy Alchemist who helps soul-driven women balance their natural energetic highs and lows and find their own rhythm — one that maximizes both creative output and self-care on a whole-person level. Zoë is also a writer and Yoga teacher, and lives on the edge of magical Dartmoor in Devon, UK with her young family. She is a self-confessed cacaoholic, tea-lover and Enid Blyton-style adventure junkie! You can connect with Zoë on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.